If you’re looking for an ideal example of a quality-minded shop located in a small town setting, look no further. Smitty’s Car Service has been taking care of locals since 1939 in a town that rivals the idyllic Mayberry for its charm and all-American flavor. Located about 13 miles southwest of Akron, Ohio, Smitty’s lies on the immediate outskirts of 200-plus-year-old Doylestown.
Owner Jeff Smith’s grandparents purchased a plot of land next door to the circa 1926 White Rose Gasoline and Tourist home in 1932. In 1939, son Robert “Smitty” Smith (current owner Jeff’s father), graduated from high school and opened the doors initially under the Smitty’s Texaco banner.
In 1979, the shop was renamed Smitty’s Car Service. Current owner Jeff Smith began working with his father in 1983, eventually taking control in 1989. The shop has continued to thrive, as a result of Jeff’s penchant for quality work and straightforward and honest customer relationships.
“Our customer base is extremely loyal,” noted Jeff. “We’re now servicing three generations of area families, from grandparents to grand kids. We have a close relationship with all of our customers, with many of them treating us like extended family. That’s an element of our business that delivers a great deal of satisfaction and can only occur when you treat people well.”
The main shop building boasts 3,800 square feet and 6 bays. Currently, the shop is staffed by Jeff, his son Doug who serves as vice president of operations for their sister company, Portage Motor Cars, and three shop technicians. In addition to Jeff, techs Jonathan Lemon and Richie Williams are ASE certified, with recent addition Kyle Rozak preparing for his certification.
In addition to servicing locals (within about a 10-mile radius on average), about a year ago, Smitty’s also began managing gas and diesel fleet vehicle maintenance and repairs for two area businesses, the largest of which involves seven large box trucks and 70 passenger cars and light trucks.
While the service business keeps the Smitty’s crew busy as mice in a cheese factory, in 2007 the shop expanded with the addition of a licensed used car dealership (Portage Motor Cars) in order to further increase sales, offering “cream of the crop” vehicles in top-notch condition.
Smitty’s has long been known for servicing older “vintage” vehicles in addition to the primary market base of daily drivers. Several area collectors steadfastly bring their restored vehicles to the shop whenever a mechanical issue arises. When asked why he continues to address this market segment, Jeff noted, “Once we started taking care of these collector cars, they (the owners) simply won’t let me quit. They demand that our shop be the only one to work on their babies.”
The shop has restored and/or serviced a multitude of classic vehicles, with one of the highlights involving a 1948 Tucker that a local collector had loaned to the movie production company that made “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” starring Jeff Bridges. The agreement was that the car was never to be driven beyond first gear and not abused. During filming, however, the car was actually used in a chase scene, and damaged as a result. The car was then shipped to Smitty’s for repair to its former glory. As part of the deal, the collector obtained an autographed photo of Jeff Bridges leaning against the car (the signed photo is on display in Smitty’s waiting room). Jeff recounted the pick-up day. “When the car was done and while we’re waiting for the owner, we parked it outside. It was crazy... we had about 200 people stopping in the road to gawk at it. It caused quite a traffic jam for the town.”
What is your business philosophy?
We value our customers as more than simply a cash source. We make a point to always give a clear, honest evaluation of repairs needed and list the repairs in priority. Our communications with our customers are based on honesty and clarity. We’re very up-front in terms of what the vehicle needs and what can be delayed, with safety and reliability as the main concerns.
What influences your parts buying decisions? Rank from 0 to 3, with 0 having no influence and 3 having the greatest influence?
Price ................................. 1
Brand name recognition.... 2
Promotion in racing .......... 0
Perceived quality ............. 3
Availability/time ................ 3
We make a point to read/research to stay informed regarding newly available aftermarket parts.
Where do you buy your parts?
We buy quite a lot of parts from OEM dealerships, especially when we feel that the OE part offers the highest quality. For aftermarket parts that meet our standards, we use a local NAPA store and a Federated location.
Do your parts buying decisions tend to be more heavily influenced by price or quality?
Cheap parts always cost more in the long run. We always try to buy OEM quality or better.
What do customers want/expect from your shop?
In simple terms, they expect quality repairs in a timely manner, at a fair price.
What is your approach to technician training?
We routinely provide in-house training with new technicians on how we want things done. We subscribe to NAPA training classes and pay our employees to attend.
How has ASP benefited your business?
Our industry is in a state of constant change. We are always looking for the latest information on repair procedures and business management. Auto Service Professional magazine is an outstanding source that helps to keep us up-to-date. ■